Pregnancy Diary – 40 weeks!

Preparing to meet our water baby

Firstly apologies this is so delayed. As you can probably guess I had my baby! The last five weeks I have mainly spent breastfeeding, watching him sleep, falling in love and trying to squeeze in the occasional shower.

But let me rewind to my 40th week of pregnancy…

Monday

Today is my first day of maternity leave – whoop! It is also the week I am due to give birth. Everybody thinks I’m crazy to have worked so late into my pregnancy but I’m pretty sure I will be 2 weeks overdue like I was with my first… and 2 weeks is quite long enough to be at home waiting, especially since I am so impatient.

I am hoping to spend the week watching Netflix in bed (between school drop offs and pick ups) and possibly squeezing in a mani-pedi and the obligatory wax so that I am fully ready to meet our water baby.

Things don’t go quite as planned as my mother has decided to come and stay and so I find myself doing jobs around the house, having to plan what to do for lunch/dinner and generally being more social than I had hoped.

But this afternoon I have my appointment with the consultant at West Middlesex hospital. I have this because my bump has measured small throughout the pregnancy (just as with my first) and a few weeks ago I was referred for a growth scan, so this is just a routine follow up. I am hoping he might be able to give me an examination and see if my cervix is doing something because I have had lots of cramping over the weekend and episodes where my tummy goes tight and hard (not contractions but enough to keep me from sleeping and enough to get me excited… and then disappointed).

As I lay on the bed in the consultants room with my legs spread (oh the indignity!), I say to him; “I’m just hoping you’ll tell me I’m 2cm dilated already” being very overly optimistic. Realistically I’d be happy just knowing my cervix is no longer posterior. A second or so later he says to his student “and the lady’s right, she’s 2cm dilated”. I LOL for real.

But he’s being sincere – My cervix is fully effaced and 2cm dilated. I’m filled with joy. I could hug him. Jeez, I could kiss him! How happy I am! I clearly recall being 41+ weeks pregnant with my first and the midwife telling me that my cervix was like that of a non-pregnant person and that labour was quite a way off. I was preparing myself for the same news but this is beyond all my hopes. All the uncomfortable cramping of the last few days has been totally worthwhile – what a journey my cervix has undertaken already!

The consultant gives me a sweep and tells me I will likely be having a baby this week. He assures me that even if I needed inducing today, he would probably only need to break my waters, that I wouldn’t need to be put on the drip like last time. I skip out of the surgery, call my partner and tell him I’m 2cm dilated and that we are having a baby imminently!! He asks if he needs to leave work (I have the sense to say no, luckily). I am way overexcited.

I Google how long it takes for labour to start after a sweep, the results are very mixed. I have no pain or contractions, not even cramping. But I am still hopeful things will be kicking off soon…

Tuesday

Nothing happened last night, nothing happens today, nothing happens tonight. I got over excited and now I am feeling disappointed. My mother is still here and I have not yet been able to begin my Netflix marathon. I consider going out to beautify myself in order to be looking my best to meet the new arrival (if that’s even possible in my swollen whale state) but can’t be bothered. I have got a bad case of negativity after yesterday’s high.

Wednesday

My mother leaves today and I go to the day assessment unit at the hospital to have the baby monitored as the consultant advised on Monday. I feel this is unnecessary but since the baby has been quieter than usual yesterday and today I go along thinking the reassurance will be good. It also gives me something to do.

The midwife who sees me tells me that in her experience babies are often quiet before you go into labour. I don’t allow myself to get excited. I sit strapped to the machine for a while and everything seems fine with baby’s heartbeat. I tell the midwife I have been having cramping and tightenings and that I had a sweep on Monday. She tells me the best thing I can do is go home and do some nipple stimulation and have intercourse to get things going. I was thinking I might cook a curry but looks like the menu might have changed…

I go home and start twiddling my nipples (yes, really) whilst watching ‘The Missing’ which is pretty gripping…

And BOOM! There are contractions! Definite ‘waves’, (as everyone describes), increasing in squeezing intensity, before relief. After a while I decide to start using my app to time them (yes, there’s an app for that).

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For 3 solid hours I twiddle my nipples, watch multiple episodes of ‘The Missing’ and time my contractions. I notice that if I stop with the nipple stimulation they die off but if I keep that up, then they just keep coming. I am having one every 3 or so minutes and they’re lasting about 45 seconds. I am thinking THIS MUST BE IT!!!

My partner gets home from work and after a bit we decide to go out for a walk. My son is at a sleepover so we are relatively free to do as we please. I am initially reluctant preferring just to stay put as I am worried about doing anything that will make the contractions stop/lose regularity but then I remind myself that if this is true labour, a walk won’t stop it. And if it’s not true labour then it will stop eventually anyway. Either way a walk won’t do any harm and there’s possibly a Winter Pimms in it for me if I go, so… we head off!

As I feared it all dies off on the walk, but at least I get to go the pub and it feels a bit like a date night… of course I’m also feeling disappointed, frustrated and impatient!! I post on The Calm Birth School’s Facebook page asking for advice and am told by a lot of lovely people to be patient – baby comes when baby is ready.

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I go home to bed, feeling grumpy.

Thursday

Today is a mega day. A mega, magical day. So mammoth that I cannot fit everything that happens into this diary entry, so I’m not going to try! I am going to have to save all the in-depth details of my labour for my birth story post, which I promise to write very soon!

But to begin, the morning started disappointingly like any other. Me still pregnant. My partner off to work. However minutes after saying his goodbyes and leaving to catch the bus, he returns having decided it might be best to work from home. (Did the skeptic that he is experience some sort of premonition?!).

I wasn’t overly happy with this decision because I was certain nothing was going to happen and I didn’t want him distracting me from season two of Orange is the New Black, which I intended to work my way through uninterrupted.

However by 11am I was thinking perhaps he was right to stay because I found myself standing at the fridge with water running down my legs. At first I was unsure whether my waters had gone or if I had actually just wet myself! I put a pad in and waited.

Once I was convinced my waters had gone, I felt excited that there was now a deadline – I knew for sure I would either go into labour naturally or be induced within the next 48 hours (due to risk of infection). But I also felt the pressure of this deadline and worried that our happy homebirth might not happen…

At this point I decided the best thing I could do would be to write my Christmas cards, so that’s what I did.

And that’s where I’m going to leave things…! Call it a cliff-hanger

NB: I promise to follow up very soon with my full, no holds barred, birth story!

Birth Story Of The Week – Sarah and Quinn

OK, pregnancy number two. Baby number two. Birth number two. And I’m determined. Determined that second time around I will achieve the natural, drug-free water birth I so longed for.

My first son was breech, he got tangled up in his long long legs and just couldn’t flip himself around.  I tried an ECV turn procedure and every old wives tale in the book to try and turn him, but it was no good and he was born via “elective” c-section, a big baby at 9lbs.

I really didn’t want another c-section. I had found my experience to be quite cold, impersonal and clinical. Second time around I was incredibly lucky to have the wonderful Clemmie as my midwife. Together, at each stage of the pregnancy, we discussed how I would like my second birth to be and she helped me to fight for it. It turns out you need to fight quite hard to be allowed a waterbirth as a VBAC. The hospital wanted me to be continuously monitored in case of scar rupture, but I really wanted to use water as my pain relief, I know how much it relaxes me – even a bath at the end of a long day! But, everything was going smoothly with my pregnancy (after a cheeky low-lying placenta managed to move itself well out of the way of the exit!) so after a couple of different consultant appointments, and with huge support from my midwifery team, I was allowed to proceed with my wishes and aim for a natural water birth.

At my hospital, all women are given a third scan at 36 weeks. So, feeling heavy and hot I arrived with my husband with what should have been the final scan of the pregnancy, the last time we would see our baby on the inside before we finally got to meet them.

Everything seemed fine and the baby seemed healthy, but the sonographers started muttering to each other in that way that they do which makes your ears prick up and try to strain in to their conversation, was everything ok?! They asked a consultant sonographer to come and rescan me. They were concerned about baby’s size. Given my first son was 9lbs and both my husband and I are quite tall, we were never expecting a small baby, but at 36.5 weeks, this babe was already measuring at 8.5lbs. They told me I needed to return the next week for a follow up. Bad news. The next week’s scan showed even more dramatic growth and they expected a birth weight of over 10lbs. Now that’s a big baby. Too big unfortunately. Too big to deliver naturally when I had had a previous c-section. They were seriously worried about my scar rupturing and it didn’t help that I’d started getting shooting pains in the scar area. I was so disappointed as they signed me up for another c-section. I didn’t want that experience again. Firstly they suggested to book it in at 38 weeks but I was determined not to miss my best friend’s getting married which was happening that week, so I convinced them to book me in at 39 weeks. Obviously that meant I had a greater chance of going into labour naturally too which I was secretly glad about!

In the days that followed I spoke at length with Clemmie about how I might be able to improve my surgical experience this time around. We made a plan. My husband was tasked with making a playlist for surgery. First time around I had generic radio playing some awful songs and it was actually distracting. Rob compiled a CD for us of music that was both soothing and special to us. Clemmie was tasked with making sure I had proper skin-to-skin contact immediately post-birth, which I didn’t get first time and Rob wanted to cut the cord. She also put me in touch with Hollie from The Calm Birth School who bent over backwards to send me hypnobirthing books and MP3 affirmations. It had never even occurred to me that I could use these techniques to keep me calm, relaxed and focused even in a surgical environment.

So, I made it to 39 weeks, even raving it up on the dancefloor of our friend’s wedding until midnight 2 days before the c-section! I was feeling good and prepared, thanks to Clemmie and Hollie’s advice, to meet my baby at last!

I entered the hospital that day feeling calm and happy. We went through the motions of prepping for surgery and my midwife team and my husband did an amazing job of distracting me from any nerves.

The feeling of the surgery first time around had freaked me out, I’d expected to feel nothing, but although I was pain free, I could feel every detail of what was happening and I was scared. This time around, I used the hypnobirthing techniques to help me focus and keep calm. I knew I was doing the best thing for me and my baby and the most important thing was that he would arrive safely. Entering the theatre I was greeted by friendly, familiar faces and my music was playing. The first song was Cinematic Orchestra’s “Build a Home” which is our most special song. The clinical tools and machines in the room which had scared me first time around, just faded out as I just concentrated on my husband, the music and the excitement that we were about to meet our second child. I honestly forgot there was anyone else in the room.

Quinn was born moments later. He weighed in at 11lbs. Now THAT’s a big baby!

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The consultant had to wrestle him out of my pelvis as he had got well and truly wedged in. She immediately reassured me that I had made the right decision to have the c-section as he wouldn’t have delivered naturally. That was exactly the right thing to say to me. I felt relief and acceptance of the experience. Quinn was quickly taken away and Rob helped Clemmie cut the cord. He was bundled up and brought straight back to me for my first cuddle. The next 45 mins, the remainder of the operation, was spent in an intimate moment, just me, my husband and our boy. The room was still full of people, but Clemmie had helped to create an environment where we could just be together, happy tears, our music and skin-to-skin.

Sarah owns and runs Archie’s Boutique an online kids design and concept store. If you have little ones check it out but be warned you won’t leave with an empty basket.

Birth Story Of The Week – Ali and Estelle

We planned a home water birth for the birth of our first baby.  We had bought a pool which we blew up at the weekend I turned 40 weeks pregnant (10 August 2014) and felt ready for labour to commence. However a few issues presented themselves at the latter stages of my pregnancy which potentially jepoardised this which I will explain below.

The first issue was a low platelet count (140 ish) which had been noted in one of my blood tests in June (although not picked up until July).  As a result, I was being monitored by the community midwives with regular blood tests. My count was slowly decreasing as the weeks crept on towards my due date of 10 August, despite my best efforts to increase the level by eating lots of red blood cell enriching foods like cherries, beetroot, sesame oil and green vegetable ‘pond’ juices. While the community midwives supported a home birth, so long as the platelet count did not decrease below 100, there was a strong desire from certain medical staff for me to give birth in the hospital/birthing suite. I had resisted this. My platelet count was on the lower end of the range at my 12 week scan so I was confident that the lower level in pregnancy was relative to that and, therefore, would not give rise to issues during labour.

The community midwives also said that I would not be advised to have a home birth if I went 10+ days overdue. To that end, they suggested I should consider membrane sweeps to encourage labour to commence.  I decided not to consider a sweep until I was 41+ weeks to allow time for labour to commence naturally, without intervention. In light of the next issue, I was very pleased I had opted not to have for any form of induction.

The platelet issue paled into insignificance once the next issue presented itself during a routine ante natal check carried out at our home when I was 40 weeks + 1 day on 18 August 2014. A midwife, whom I had not seen previously, carried out palpation on my bump and suspected our baby may be breech. I could not believe it. All previous ante natal checks had identified my baby as head-down and, by this stage, 4/5 engaged. A second midwife, also in attendance that day, was also uncertain as to whether our baby was breech. I was shocked to hear this at this late stage in my pregnancy.

The midwife was fairly confident that our baby was head-down. Such was her conviction, she sent me for a scan at the hospital the following day, rather than an emergency scan on the same day.  Upon arriving at the hospital, the midwife carried out palpation and she also thought the baby was head down. However, upon carrying out the ultrasound scan, one of our biggest fears was realised when our baby was confirmed as being breech. I was devastated as I believed our home birth was an impossibility and I was naturally concerned as to any consequences of the breech presentation in relation to our baby’s health/delivery.

I had to wait in the hospital from 11am on Tuesday 12 August 2014, when the breech was diagnosed, until 7.30pm, before an ECV (a procedure carried out by a consultant doctor to try and manually turn our baby) was performed.  I was told this was because I needed to be nil by mouth in the event I needed to go into theatre for an emergency C section.  This was far from ideal at 40+ weeks pregnant on a hot summer’s day on a hospital ward. After the ECV failed to turn our baby, I was told by the NHS that the only option was a C section.

Before the ECV was carried out, the obstetrician asked if we had packed our overnight bags, suggesting she fully anticipated us having a C section that evening and therefore, by implication, that the ECV was not likely to be successful. Of course we had not packed our bags; we went to the hospital fully expecting to receive confirmation that our baby was head down, as the midwife had indicated.

While I waited for the ECV procedure to be performed, I started to research breech birth and came across three midwives who were experienced in the field, namely Shawn Walker, Mary Cronk and Jane Evans. Shawn Walker very kindly spoke to me once I left the hospital and discussed matters with me at length. Separately, in the days that followed, I was also in email communication with Mary Cronk and spoke to Jane Evans who was very helpful. It was interesting to note that Jane’s daughter had given birth to a breech baby.

From my research, it seemed that breech presentation was not abnormal, it was, in fact, a variation of normal. This was something I held at the forefront of my mind in the coming days.

As I was 40 weeks + 2 days, the hospital wanted me to sign a consent form to have a C section on Friday 15 August 2014. I spent that evening/into the early hours of the next day frantically researching breech presentation and the possibility of vaginal breech delivery. The possibility of a breech vaginal delivery was not discussed at the hospital.

I had been practising Natal Hypnotherapy for the majority of my pregnancy and attended a 2 day workshop in Wimbledon. This, I believe, gave me the confidence to trust my body’s ability to give birth naturally and to trust my instincts, both of which led to our birth story I describe below. I would highly recommend the birth preparation CDs and the workshops to anyone preparing for labour. I had our mind map on the wall of our bedroom, together with a series of positive affirmations.

On the evening of 12 August, after I was discharged from hospital, I searched Google for “natal hypnotherapy” and “vaginal breech” and found Ruth Atkinson’s birth story. I emailed Ruth at an ungodly hour desperately hoping she would reply to my email. Time really was of the essence given the late stage of my pregnancy. I was truly grateful when I saw Ruth’s reply in my inbox at around 11pm at night. One of the things she said which gave me an element of hope was “All is not lost. It is still possible to have the birth you want…”

Ruth kindly spoke to me the following day and shared her birth story which was, strangely, not too dissimilar to mine in respect of the breech diagnosis late in her pregnancy and her desire to have a vaginal breech delivery. Ruth told me about the wonderful Maya Midwives who had supported the safe arrival of her breech daughter, vaginally, at home. I therefore wasted no time and contacted Andy at Maya Midwives on Wednesday 13 August. Andy discussed my circumstances on the phone and then sent me various information by email to read on breech presentation, including Jane Evans’ AIMS guide ‘breech birth what are my options’. Interestingly, Andy was also a breech baby herself.

Andy and Viv of Maya Midwives then came to our house the following day to discuss matters in person. My husband and I digested all of the information and decided we would engage the services of Maya Midwives and opted to continue with our home birth. I was so happy to have the support of Andy and Viv, both of whom shared similar views to my husband and I as to natural birth.

For various reasons, the NHS was still involved in our birth plan for a short while after this. Various senior midwives were in contact with us at that time and were concerned that we were opting for a home birth.  They therefore sought to highlight their views (on several occassions) in relation to the risks of a breech birth at home; their preference was for us to attend the hospital for the birth. However, I felt that the hospital didn’t really go into such detail as to the level of risk in relation to a C-section.  This was at odds with our informed decision to have a home birth (which we had already told the hospital on many occassions) and only served to add to what was an already stressful time.

This sentiments of this quote rang true during this time: “The more Wisdom you attain and the more Conscious you become, the crazier you will appear to others

We also hired another midwife, Kathryn Weymouth, to assist. Kathryn lives 60 miles away. Kathryn had experience of vaginal breech birth and was happy to attend the birth, together with the support of Liz Nightingale. I think our baby (given the moniker: Beatty) knew not to come until we had our team in place.  By this time, we had an excellent, supportive team together (including my wonderful husband). It was  therefore a matter of waiting for labour to commence.

By 41 weeks, Beatty had still not arrived. However, the midwives recommended that I ought not to do anything to try and induce labour, whether that be reflexology, acupuncture and/or a membrane sweep as it was important for a breech baby to come when it was ready, or opt for C section. So, it was a matter of (patiently) waiting.

Maya Midwives therefore embarked on ‘Project Relaxation’ as it seemed apparent that my body/mind were in a state of flux given the issues of the preceding week. I believed that I would not go into spontaneous labour until I switched of my ‘thinking brain’ and allowed my primal bran to engage, something I learnt in Natal Hypnotherapy. Project Relaxation was a lot of fun and involved making a belly cast of my bump, decorating candle holders (blue peter style), acupuncture and lots of candle lit baths.

All the while, I was getting many messages from friends/family wondering if we had had our baby. As each day went by, I was getting more anxious as I knew post 42 weeks would bring further issues to bear. We had even booked a fetal well being scan on Harley Street (as we were keen to avoid attending the hospital, where possible, to avoid further pressure from the hospital as to an elective C section) to check Beatty’s heart beat, amniotic fluid and blood flow to the placenta. I was not overly concerned as there is perhaps unnecessary significance placed on the ‘guess date'; many people had said to me that babies come when they are ready. In France, for instance, full term is considered to be 41 weeks, so there are different interpretations of ‘full term’. Beatty continued to be very active with lots of kicks which Andy said was a good indicator of Beatty’s wellbeing.

I wrote a letter to Beatty and read it aloud to her and also talked to Beatty several times a day to try and encourage her to start her journey into the world. I knew we could do it together and I truly believed that. At 41 + 6 days, my contractions started at 3.45pm on 23 August 2014, while eating strawberries and cream in the garden on a lovely warm day. They were irregular and not very strong. I had had the same sensation a couple of days before, while watching a DVD, when I had to get out of bed to ease the sensation, however on this occasion it passed after an hour or so.  We were therefore convinced that this was another false start.  Nevertheless, we walked to the park to try and encourage more contractions. While I had a few sensations, they continued to be irregular and did not increase in intensity.  We did, however, practice filling the pool but promptly emptied it, again not anticipating labour to commence imminently.

We received a message from one of our NCT group at around 2.30pm that day to confirm they had welcomed their little boy into the world, 2 days’ early. I was delighted for them but it served to emphasise the fact we were still waiting for our little one.

After a little break from the contractions, we retired to bed. However, by 8.30pm the contractions were coming more frequently and with increased intensity. We called Andy and Kathryn; Kathryn was watching an open air screening of Grease Lightning!  As both Andy and Kathryn were over an hour away from us, they both decided to come over to our house. This was much to the relief of my husband.

My surges were concentrated in my back so my husband massaged my back with increasing force to counteract the sensations. My contractions continued but did not seem to progress sufficiently therefore Andy and Kathryn, together with a student midwife, Suri, retired to bed. I continued to have infrequent contractions throughout the night. I recall shouting at my husband (who was asleep) to massage my back throughout the night. We all woke up around 7am and, as my surges continued in a similar manner, the midwives decided they would give my husband and I privacy to seek to encourage labour to progress. They all went into the local town for breakfast. My husband made me breakfast of yoghurt and fresh fruit but I promptly threw this back up again.  I was in the kitchen on my exercise ball and could feel myself drifting away from my husband and the environment around me and retreating into my own body. Once the midwives arrived back at 8.30am, I was in established labour. The midwives did not carry out any internal vaginal examinations, rather they read my behaviour to assess progress.

I had never really considered where I would labour in the house but I remained in the bedroom. I recall it was a lovely sunny day outside but we kept the curtains closed to create a more ‘safe’ enclosed environment. The Natal Hypnotherapy relaxation music was playing in the background for the duration of the labour and we had lavender essential oil in a diffuser. The midwives were very respectful of our own space and left my husband and I alone for much of the time.  I do recall Kathryn the midwife giving me an amazing massage (she is a trained masseuse) on my lower back. It really did relieve the sensations I was feeling. I also had an essential oil mix on a piece of cotton wool to smell during labour to ease my slight nausea; I have a very vivid memory of this.

My waters broke in our bathroom during one of my contractions at around midday. I realised I was getting ever closer to meeting our baby! My husband and I were prepared for the transition stage from labour to pushing. However, I do not recall this period in the labour, nor does my husband; although, in retrospect, it may have occurred when I asked Kathryn if I could use gas and air. I think this was a moment of slight panic in my mind when I knew I was entering the final stage and thought I may need assistance. Kathryn gently discouraged this and I was happy to proceed without gas and air. I did have 2 paracetamol at some stage but not sure they would have had any effect whatsoever!! I did, however, use my TENS machine throughout labour and found this really helpful for easing the effects of the surges and it also served as a distraction, together with the tools I learnt with Natal Hypnotherapy.  I also made loud chanting sounds of AHHHHH and OOOOOM to get through the surges which I learnt from JuJu Sindin’s Birth Skills book – I would highly recommend this.

At around 3pm ish we were all preparing for the birth of our daughter. The midwives prepared the bedroom with the dust sheets and old bedding. I assumed a side lying position on my left side. This was an odd position in the sense that I had never considered this position in any of my birth preparation classes.  I recall the bedroom was very hot as we had to use a heater to ensure the room was sufficiently warm to receive our baby.  During the pushing stage, my husband pated my forehead with a cold flannel which was replaced regularly by the midwives to ensure it was cool. I also had lots of coconut water throughout the labour, together with ice cubes, made of honey/lemon and himalayan sea salt, raspberry leaf infused water and black molasses in hot water to maintain my energy levels.

Our baby was slowly descending but I could sense that the midwives were keen for me to change positions, although they very much allowed this to be led by me.  As a matter of common sense, it would have been more logical for me to be in a vertical position/all fours. I had pulled a muscle/ligament on my left side at some stage during labour so I was not desperate to change positions, as I knew it would hurt.  However, something urged me to jump onto an all fours position. Once I changed position, our baby seemed to descend much quicker. The midwives have since commented on the extent of my movements during this stage – I was almost kneeling at one point, then swaying my hips left to right and then leaning forwards in a prayer position. All of this behaviour was instinctive, rather than conscious, and the midwives believed this assisted our daughter’s birth. It felt like Beatty and I were doing a little dance with one another.  I was comforted that our daughter was almost dancing with her little legs hanging out of me and she was a lovely colour, whereas some of the videos I had seen of vaginal breech deliveries involved a baby looking a little limp and blue.

I recall the sensation of our daughter’s bum coming out and then her legs. I could sense when Beatty’s body had flopped out. I recall looking through my legs and seeing Beatty hanging there, with her head inside of me. We had kept the sex of our baby a surprise so I was constantly asking the midwives if they could discern the sex. As our baby passed urine, they could tell it was a girl. My husband and I were so surprised as 95% of people had said they thought it was a boy. While we had no firm view either way, we had become convinced that it was a boy; it was a lovely surprise to hear it was a girl.

I did not have another contraction to push out Beatty’s head for around 5 minutes. It felt like a long time. The midwives were not too concerned as our daughter’s lips were peeping out of me and her lips were opening and closing to take in air.  The only time the midwives intervened was to lightly move the cord to allow our daughter to breathe.  As no contraction came, I pushed without a contraction and my daughter was born at 4:17pm, exactly 14 days after her due date. It was the best feeling. My husband, who had been attending to me the whole labour, gave me a big kiss and then the midwives put our daughter in front of me on the floor. I couldn’t believe she was ours. I didn’t pick her up straight away while I took it all in. I then held her close to my chest – skin to skin – and we had our first cuddle as a family.

Our daughter was 8 lbs 9 ounces (the midwives did comment on how big she appeared as she was being born – I always had a strong suspicion that she was going to be a big baby!) and 52 cm long – although she appeared much longer; most people have passed comment on this since her birth. Our daughter scored 9/10 on her APGAR score.

Given established labour started around 8.30am that morning, labour was fairly quick. I also only suffered a minor tear which did not require any stitches. When I spoke to Jane Evans she told me that breech births are generally fairly quick and that generally women don’t tear – so breech birth does have its advantages!

We then all moved to our bed with our daughter in my arms while the midwives tidied up around us. One big bonus was that the student midwife, Suyai, used to be a chef so she made an amazing breakfast for us of eggs, bacon, spinach and tomatoes – beats hospital food any day! Andy also made me a lovely placenta smoothie and I ate some of the placenta immediately after the birth, when resting in bed. I cannot be certain, but I attribute the fact that I did not suffer any baby blues to the placenta which I consumed. I believe this regulated my hormones and replenished vital nutrients lost during labour.

I will treasure forever the memory of the three of us snuggling in bed that evening. If we had given birth in the hospital, my husband may have been asked to leave us that evening which would have been awful.  This was another (of many) advantages to a home birth.

Our daughter was slow to latch on but after a couple of days of practice, she was guzzling away – her new found hobby.

If the hospital had had its way, our daughter would have been born on 15 August 2014; that was not her time. In fact, the midwives noted that our daughter did not show any signs of being particularly over her due date. We were delighted she came naturally on her true birthday and not a date fixed by a hospital.

We did not name our daughter until a couple of days after the birth; such was our belief that our baby was a boy, we had not properly considered girls’ names. On Tuesday 26 August, we named our little breechling Estelle Augusta Barker – inspired by the main character in Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House, Estella. A strong, formidable character which we hope Estelle will be, too.

20140824_161904_edited-1 (1) IMG_20140824_164453_Lucas DSC_0867 copy 20140824_163826_edited-1 20140824_163737_edited-1 (1)A big thank you to the midwife team for all of their incredible efforts/support in the safe arrival of Estelle, to Ruth Atkinson for her inspirational birth story which gave me the strength to follow my instincts and a final thank you to my wonderful husband who supported me throughout the pregnancy, labour and beyond.

10 ways to savour your last days of pregnancy

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Hollie de Cruz, co-founder of The Calm Birth School shares her tips for relishing the run up to your baby’s birth.

So you’re nearing full term. You’ve finished work; you’ve bought the pram and assembled the nursery furniture. You’ve folded and re-folded 200 bright white muslins and now all you need is your baby. The last days of pregnancy can be a funny old time. Your friends and family are harassing you via every form of contact available to see if you’ve had the baby yet (oh, let me just check my vagina…NO!), strangers in the street tell you you’re massive, and of course you’re excited to meet this sweet little human who you’ve been growing and nurturing for so many months.

We all know that due dates should be taken with a pinch of salt. Full term is considered anything from 37 to 42 weeks, which makes it quite tricky to hone in on when exactly that magical day will arrive. When caregivers and well-meaning friends start talking about you being “overdue” at a day past your 40 week guess date, it’s no surprise that many women start feeling anxious and fed-up, or even bored of playing the waiting game. I want to let you in on a little secret though. When you stop worrying about times and dates, this period can be one of the most precious times of your entire life and – embraced openly – can even help prepare you for a better birth experience.

How’s that you say? Well when we feel relaxed and happy we naturally release endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good hormone of love, and they go hand-in-hand with oxytocin – a key hormone that’s required for labour to begin. If we are anxious and stressed we produce adrenalin, which not only inhibits labour from starting, but makes things much less comfortable and efficient when they do. The good news is that you can’t produce endorphins and adrenalin at the same time, so if we focus on maintaining a state of calm and happiness, we are more likely to enjoy this period AND have a better birth. So over at The Calm Birth School we’ve put together our top tips for what to do whilst you’re waiting for your little one. And remember, the only one who’s privy to this due date is your baby. Trust them.

1.     Write up your favourite affirmations: That’s right, we recommend picking five to ten affirmations that really resonate with you, and not only affirming them to yourself now, but writing them down so that you can look at them when it’s time to birth your baby. Get your birth partner involved with this too. If they know what your favourite affirmations are, they can whisper them to you during labour and that feels AMAZING. If you’re looking for affirmation ideas, go and check out @calmbirthschool and @lovelybirths on Twitter, or @londonhypnobirthing on Instagram.

2.     Write a letter to your baby: Okay so it sounds a bit daft, but we believe in the power of prenatal bonding over at The Calm Birth School. Use this time to connect with your baby – tell them you can’t wait to meet them, and that their birth is going to be gentle and joyful. Writing this in a letter means they’ll have a lovely keepsake to look back on when they’re older, and will help you identify that innate bond you’ll call upon on your baby’s birthing day.

3.     Pamper yourself: You probably haven’t been too close to your toes in a while, so take the opportunity to go and get a relaxing pedicure or manicure. Sit back and relax with a good book or a magazine and enjoy this precious quiet time to yourself. Or why not get your hair done? It may be a while before you’re back to your blowdrys, so make the most of it now and feel as fabulous as you truly are.

4.     Make time for you and your partner: This is a really important one. Sometimes we’re so busy rushing around to get things ready for the imminent arrival, that it’s easy to forget that this is the last time it’s going to be just the two of you. Indulge in it. If you have the funds, splash out on a little babymoon, but even a day by the sea, a lovely walk in the forest or a romantic meal for two can be a lovely way to connect and appreciate each other before your life expands. And bonus points for getting physical! Intimacy promotes the production of those wonderful endorphins I mentioned earlier, and might even get things going if the time is right.

5.     Read about breastfeeding and go and buy your nursing bras: Many mums are so focused on the birth that they forget to think about what life will be like with a new baby. If you’re planning to breastfeed, read lots about it and equip yourselves with the knowledge and tools you need – just like you’re doing for your birth. I also suggest buying your nursing bras now – choose something super comfortable and pretty, so that you feel well supported and of course every bit the beautiful goddess that you are!

6.     Cook some food: That’s right. When your baby arrives you are going to be occupied with staring at their amazingness for about 90% of your time, but you don’t want to live on Wotsits, so start filling your freezer now. Make big batches of things that can be easily heated up and don’t require too much prep (or washing up).

7.     Ditch your alarm clock: You will probably never need an alarm clock again, so just bin it now and enjoy some last minute lie-ins. Have breakfast in bed, read a great book and just enjoy some extra well-deserved Zzzs.

8.     See your friends: If you’re on maternity leave, arrange a lunch date with some of your girlfriends or meet them after work for a nice dinner. The chances are you’ll want to stay close to home for a while after your baby is born, so use this opportunity to go into town, see an exhibition, and let your lovely friends nurture and support you. If you don’t feel like going out, organise a girl’s night in.

9.     Go to the cinema, on your own, in the day! This was one of my favourite things to do when I was on maternity leave. It felt like such a treat to go and see a film during the day, and you practically have the whole cinema to yourself. Combine it with a gentle walk home or lunch with friends and you have yourself an excellent day!

10. Relax: It sounds simple, but it can sometimes be the one thing that’s overlooked. If you feel tired, go to sleep. If you feel stressed, relax. This is a great time to just look after number one. So listen to a deep relaxation MP3, have a warm bath with some essential oils, and practice your breathing techniques so that they become second nature when labour begins.

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The Calm Birth School is the world’s first online hypnobirthing course. Videos and MP3s are delivered to your inbox once a week for four weeks, so that you can create a calm and positive birth experience from the comfort of your home. Enroll now atwww.thecalmbirthschool.com/course or email hollie@thecalmbirthschool.com for more information.

Birth Story Of The Week – Melanie and George

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Aromatherapy, a calming soundtrack, some massage from my husband, yogic prana breath and a water birth were key points in the birth plan that I wrote in the space provided for it on my NHS pregnancy notes. Yet under the bright glaring lights of a Kings College operating theatre, George Forrester Shelley arrived after an emergency caesarian section, like myself and my mum before me.

A decade plus of yoga practice had me thinking I would breath my way through this labour, that I would naturally deliver my baby at home. The birthing pool was set up in the lounge room. I would have done hypnobirthing it if I had the spare money but instead I prepared by reading a friend’s book and downloading some very relaxing hypnobirthing tracks by Katharine Graves from iTunes that I listened to each night in bed.

The talk of the home birth had shocked my mother, and was the only one in my NCT group, though our elderly neighbor had three of her babies at home. The NCT antenatal course cemented my belief in home, natural birth against all else. I poo-pooed all the drugs, I wasn’t going to need them. Until I did.

There’s nothing like labour to make you realize you’re not always involved in the choices life makes for you. I have a very plan A, plan B and plan C brain, so I really did think that if it came to it, I’d actually be fine with any drugs or intervention if that’s the course things took. If I could have chosen, I would have had none.

I was in labour, but I didn’t know it, at 6pm on a Friday night one day after my “due” date. I messaged my homeward-bound husband read “fuck my back is killing me”. That, it turns out, was labour starting. I did managed to labour at home all weekend with the TENS machine, oms, breathing, bird song and clary sage and lavender oils. We finally drove in to Kings College Hsopital Denmark Hill at midnight on Sunday.

My amazing midwives from The Lanes had been to see me on the Sunday evening while I was in labour, but it wasn’t long after they left that we called them back and they arranged for me to go in to Kings a where I was taken to a one bed triage room. This transfer was something I dearly wanted to avoid during my labour, because I had heard how the transfer of locations can slow labour, but I could not bear the constant and overlapping contractions any longer.

The NCT classes had convinced me drugs were bad. Wrong. They were amazing. I first had pethedene, and while it may have made me a little sick in the mouth, it wasn’t any more than after seeing Jeremy Clarkson with his shirt off on Top Gear. I clearly remember telling Mark it was as good as clubbing days in the nineties. Plus, this stopped me screaming and let me have some sleep.

Then came the entonox, or gas and air. After hours of me lowing with each contraction, a night nurse walked into our room and said “We can hear you out there, so I thought you might like some gas and air.” This really annoyed me. I didn’t realize I could ask for this, or was out the point where I needed it. Again, it felt amazing and I tried to make Mark take some.

The next morning, the epidural. Another wow drug. All the pain and exhaustion from the last two and a half days instantly disappeared. My contractions had been steady and unrelenting since Sunday morning and there was no sign of the baby. This was arranged some unbelievably quickly by Erika, one of the midwives from The Lanes, and delivered by one of an anaesthetist who was one of a steady stream of amazing young female doctors to help me during my labour.

By Monday afternoon, despite the baby’s best efforts at twisting and turning, there was no dilation and baby was nowhere to be seen. The only option seemed to be to take the induction drug prostaglandin to push my labour along. I had, by this point, completely lost my sense of humour. I was still trying to breath and remain calm, trying to go with the options that life was presenting me and be at peace with them, but this was so far from my idea of a peaceful waterbirth at home.

I was able to get some rest at this stage, but when I woke, nothing had changed. The epidural wore off. The pain was immense. My waters were broken by Erika and they revealed meconium. The baby had had enough, and so had I. I had mentally made the decision I would have a caesarian. The consultant read my charts and came to the same conclusion, asking me very clearly if this is what I wanted and outlining the reasons he thought it necessary. I agreed.

By this point my regular midwife Mary had come on shift and so having brought me all the way through my pregnancy, was ultimately on hand to deliver George at 10:45pm on the Monday. It was such a joy to see her as I had known her since we conceived. And so my final and most amazing drug – the spinal anaesthesia. All the pain from the last three days disappeared and I felt huge relief that my baby was going to be with us soon. While I thought that consciously, the photos tell a different story. My eyes were glazed, I was full of drugs, and I was exhausted. Being me – a journalist with a huge interest in women’s careers – I was quizzing my anaesthetist on her career development while we waited for the operation to start.

Our beautiful and healthy little boy George Forrester was finally born and after time bonding skin-to-skin in the recovery room, we were moved to the 6-bed ward. I felt a huge surge of respect for all mothers everywhere, and I clearly remember thinking “this is the least millennial experience ever. I have real concerns that anyone will bother continuing the human race.”

We were kept in the hospital on antibiotics because my temperature had unsurprisingly crept up slightly over my 3 day labour. This really sucked. I had to listen to five other families in the shared ward when I really wanted to be at home with my baby, hearing them bliss out over their swift labours and wade through a lifetime of emotion. Fortunately Kings lets partners sleep on the floor next to you, so Mark was with George and I the whole time.

The best part of the stay was visits from Clemmie, Vanessa and other midwives from The Lanes who popped in to give me a hug. The caseloading system means I had known these angels for months and that means so much at such a vulnerable time. IMG_0042 IMG_0048 The surge of emotion that other mothers in the ward were experiencing was blocked my internal sea of drugs but five days later as I made my way out of the door of the hospital with our tiny baby for the first time I experienced every nameable emotion. I was terrified for him, I was elated, and I bawled the whole way home.

Check out Melanie’s amazing new project Mumspo a ‘resource for amazing Mums who flex their creative muscle either on maternity leave, or with growing kids.’ You may spot a familiar face on there too.

Pregnancy Diary – 39 Weeks

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Monday – Is this nesting?!

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We decided to paint the baby’s room last week (better late than never) and it’s finally finished. Well, it’s a lampshade and dimmer switch away from being finished but we’re almost there.

Painting baby’s room without knowing the sex of baby somewhat limits your options so we have kept it neutral and used Farrow and Ball Pavilion Gray for the walls and Green Blue for the wardrobe. Ikea blackout blinds have been fitted, change table has been erected and our Gro-egg is in place, kindly alerting us to the fact that the room is too cold.

Baby’s clothes have been both washed and IRONED! I literally never iron. I think this might be the third time I have used the iron in my life. I don’t even know why I did. It’s not like I will be keeping this up when baby comes.  Now I’m thinking about it, perhaps it was a grave mistake on my part and I will have inadvertently given baby too high expectations and it will be permanently disappointed going forth with its wrinkly clothes…

Tuesday – TENS testing

We decided we should road test the TENS machine which we bought at an NCT nearly new sale a few weeks ago, just to check it worked. The testing of the TENS machine literally brought so much joy I nearly wet myself. And with baby’s head firmly engaged in my cervix, that’s not just a flippant throw-away remark but a genuine fear. I managed to coax my partner into being the guinea pig and he impressively managed to withstand the pulsating pads as I turned up the intensity. His whole body was jerking, and there may have been some screaming. I only wish we had filmed it.

We then tested it on my arm and it made my middle finger pulse rhythmically of its own accord. When boost was pressed my finger clamped down and I couldn’t even lift it. Hilarity ensued. Oh, it’s the simple things!

Wednesday – Date night!

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Decided to squeeze in what could be the last date night in a while and go for a curry (OBVIOUSLY). Went to Dishoom in Covent Garden (which was AH-MA-ZING!). Also enjoyed a massive bump perk – instead of having to join the 1.5hr queue outside we were seated at the bar until a table became available. Food was incredible and 100% worth visiting even if you’re not prego.

Thursday – Gifts galore and goodbyes

Tonight I was out again after work (no rest for this 39 weeker), this time for an xmas/goodbye meal with my colleagues. I was given a gorgeous box of Mother treats from Neal’s Yard amongst other things… have added the massage oil to my birth bag already. I know I have mentioned this before but I literally cannot wait for labour to begin so I can start using all the treats I’ve been saving up!!

Friday – And breathe…

Today is my last day of work. My maternity leave officially starts on Monday – that’s 4 days before my due date. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wanted to save my maternity leave for when baby was here and also I’m a VERY impatient person who doesn’t know how to rest. Being at home on maternity leave sans baby, for me, would be a very bad combination. I’d be trying to stretch and sweep myself within hours. However I am REALLY looking forward to just relaxing in bed whilst everyone is out of the house at school/work and watching season 2 of Orange is the New Black on Netflix uninterrupted… if I get the chance! I also have to get and decorate a Christmas tree, there’s my son’s school’s Christmas fair to go to… oh, and then there’s that other minor thing to square away… the Christmas shopping!!! Thank God for Amazon prime, hey?

Do Only Hippies Have Home Births?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have seen and read the headlines last week about NICE encouraging low risk women to opt for a home birth. These new guidelines have had mixed responses from women and midwives all over the UK. It raised a lot of questions from some of my pregnant women who previously hadn’t considered a home birth as an option.

I decided to ask a few of my friends who have had a home birth to tell me why they choose a home birth and how it exactly made them feel.

‘I wanted to have my baby at home where I felt calm, relaxed and in control. I had complete confidence in my midwives and felt like it was just a natural process that I could best do in my own environment. The best thing about having my baby at home was being able to get into my own bed straight away, cuddling our new baby, introducing her to my two young boys and having a lovely cup of tea and toast.’ Natasha Mum of 3.

‘I had a home birth because I believe giving birth shouldn’t be too medical; it’s a natural process & a home environment can provide a perfect setting to keep calm & relaxed. I also had full confidence in my midwife & my husband that they could support me through it. Having a home birth made me feel incredibly proud of my body and my mind. It gave me an enormous sense of empowerment & encouragement if we decide to do it again! I loved the feeling of being safe at home & I could climb into my own bed afterwards with a cup of tea & cake!’ Sam Mum of 2.

I had home births because I knew home was the place I felt most comfortable. By feeling comfortable I knew I would feel more in control and therefore relaxed. The more relaxed I felt the less pain I would feel. Giving birth is a natural & normal process one which doesn’t always need medical intervention. Having my babies at home enabled me to be in control during birth and to relax immediately afterwards.’ Ali Mum of 2.

This next home birth story is by Zoe. I had the pleasure of attending both of her births both in hospital and at home. Here she explains why she also chose a home birth for her second baby Delphine born earlier this year. (She’s defiantly not a hippie in fact she’s one of the coolest Mums I know)

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I know I’ve been lucky with both my labours, i actually feel guilty talking about them sometimes as so many other women have had bad experiences.  But I guess its good to know that labour isn’t all bad or scary – yes there are some toe-curlingly painful moments but they pass pretty quickly (then come back) but sometimes it can be ok.

I prepared for labour by doing pregnancy yoga classes and i learnt about the stages of labour, i read some amazing inspiring stories about women giving birth in the back of trucks in the 70s in a book called Spiritual Midwifery, i read a bit about the principles of hypno birth and reminded myself that everyone had been born, its a natural thing so whats with all the hype!? By the end my pregnancy i was really looking forward to giving birth.

I would have liked to have had a with my first baby but we moved house to a new area on my due date, he arrived 4 days later (once we’d unpacked and i was relaxed) so it wasn’t an option i could plan for.  Instead we had him at the hospital in a birth room and had as similar experience as a home birth as we could in the hospital it was amazing.  We registered ourselves at the hospital in the morning when i was 1cm dilated, then went back home until later that evening when i returned at 6-7cm.  The birth room was really nice – there were coloured lights, a private bathroom, birth balls and a large bath which i got into and had him about 5 hours later with no pain relief apart from gas and air.

For me the actual labour part of being at the hospital was great – I had amazing midwives (Clemmie) who were supportive and really listened to what i wanted and who definitely didn’t panic/ pressure me, they made me feel relaxed and able to focus on my labour.  However once we were moved down (I guess around 1am) to the ward it wasn’t so fun we were given a curtained off bed and a chair for my husband, next to some guy who was singing (not very well)  to his new baby, people watching tv, talking, and lots of crying babies.

We had to wait there until 5pm the following day for a midwife to give me a Anti D injection (i am rhesus negative) then at last we could go home.   That day was horrible – we were tired and hungry and just wanted more than anything to take our baby home.

As I had such a straightforward first birth we decided to go for a home birth with our second, obviously as any mother would be i was worried about if anything went wrong what would happen but i thought this was a chance i was prepared to take in order to have the reward of having my baby and family at home straight away – with my bathroom, bed, clothes, music etc.

As my due date arrived the thing i was most anxious about was having my toddler in the house while i was in labour and felt that I couldn’t relax while he was there so he went to stay with my parents and a the next day I went into labour

I was having mild contractions throughout the day bouncing on my birth ball watching Orange is the New Black, my husband working upstairs feeling relaxed that I didn’t have to go to the hospital or anywhere else.   After having a sweep in the afternoon things moved quickly I remember leaning on my banister at the bottom of my stairs with my Tens machine on finding it to be the only place i wanted to be as my contractions were getting stronger.  I told my husband to get off his conference call and come downstairs. Clemmie arrived at about 4pm, I got in the pool and we talked about shoes!! And then I felt like pushing – my baby daughter was born about 20 mins later.  My placenta came out naturally in the water, then I got out and I lay on my sofa with a baby, cup of tea and a biscuit – it was amazing!  We even used the water in the pool to water the garden!!

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When I would tell people that I was planning a home birth they would mostly react with ‘ooo you are brave’ – why? my Mum was born at home, Call The Midwife?  I think its all part of the negative ideas that are attached to labour and the fear that its a horrible, painful and scary experience.

Women need to go into labour focused, relaxed and informed – be strong and not scared!

Pregnancy Diary – 38 Weeks

Hot off today’s headlines! NICE have said that Women with low-risk pregnancies are to be encouraged to have non-hospital births under new NHS guidelines, which could see almost half of mothers-to-be planning to deliver their baby away from traditional labour wards. This is wonderful news for midwives, women and even doctors who are working in over stretched, busy labour wards. As a midwife who works in a case-loading team and is able to offer all our women the choice where to birth their baby, this new guideline could not be more welcomed. Today Siobhan gives us an update on her preparation for her home birth.
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Preparing to meet our water baby

Monday – Iron worries

I mentioned in my previous post how I was totally committed to my planned homebirth, however there is one potential problem that stands between me and my birth pool dream and that is my iron level. It was 10.5 at 28 weeks and I was told to take Spatone twice a day, which I did. However by 36 weeks it had fallen to 9.9. (I have been told that a minimum of 10 is required for homebirth or birthing centre and 11 is preferable). I have now been taking Ferrous Sulphate twice a day and folic acid with orange juice. We have gone from eating kale with every meal (which my partner hated) to steak on a regular basis (which he’s much more happy about). This is after reading the post about nutrition on this blog and learning that we absorb iron much more efficiently from red meat rather than vegetables. My bloods are being checked again this week, at 38 weeks. Fingers crossed it’s risen and all the black poo has been worth it! (YUK).

Tuesday – Baby, be ready soon… please!

‘Babies are born when babies are ready’ is a rather tricky affirmation for me to embrace wholeheartedly as I was induced at almost 42 weeks with my son and I really want to avoid that happening again.  What if baby isn’t ready until after 42 weeks?! I don’t want to battle consultants who want me induced and to start worrying about whether I should follow their advice or not. Of course I want baby to be come when baby is ready…it’s just I really want baby to be ready by 41 weeks!

To help avoid this situation I have started having acupuncture twice a week. I don’t believe acupuncture is going to induce my labour and I don’t believe it will make my body do something my body is not ready to do. But I do believe that acupuncture can remove the obstacles (like stress, tension and worry) that prevent labour from starting. Last week the points used were to improve my blood and for relaxation. I slept really well that night for the first time in ages. My second session was this week and the points used were for ripening the cervix. Since then I have felt a stretching and tenderness down there. Could all be psychosomatic of course (says the skeptic in me).

Wednesday – Wet runs and hot tub fun

Tonight we had our ‘wet run’ – which is like a dry run with the birth pool, only there’s lots of water involved.  My partner inflated and filled the pool (and timed it), and then, because I couldn’t bear to waste all the warm water, we decided to get in and enjoy it! I started off LOVING the pool – it felt like we were sat in our own private hot tub… in the living room!!! But then I started feeling some waves of panic…caused by the dawning realization that in the next few weeks I’m going to be giving birth in this pool!! A human being, is going to come out of my vagina, in this pool, in the next few weeks. It’s mind-blowing and over-whelming. I felt a bit sick so went to bed with my relaxation track.

Thursday – to be present or not to be present?

My son has gone from describing a textbook TV birth – Mum-to-be in bed, on her back, sweaty, red and screaming to imagining a happy, calm, water birth. He asks all kinds of intelligent questions, like how come it won’t drown when it comes out in the water? After I explained how it won’t take its first breath until it’s lifted out into the air, he said he wanted to be there for ‘when it takes its first breath in this life, in our family’. How cute is that?!

We still don’t have a plan in place for what we will do in terms of childcare when I’m in labour. The first issue is timing. If only we could know WHEN in the next 4 weeks the baby is going to come! If it’s the daytime then he could be at school, if it’s the nighttime he could be sleeping. If it’s the school holidays then we could be screwed! Both sets of grandparents live approximately 4 hours drive away, which isn’t ideal/an option. And the second issue is whether or not Oisin should be part of the birth?! He says he wants to be there for when the baby comes out but will I be relaxed if he is and what if things don’t go to plan? What if he finds it distressing and I can’t comfort him or reassure him because I’m in the throes of labour? I really don’t know what is best but I know some sort of decision needs to be made imminently…

The best news today was my iron results came back and homebirth is a GO! It’s gone from 9.9 to 11.3 after just 13 days of iron tablets. perhaps it was the acupuncture!! My midwife seemed a little surprised and I have been having points for improving blood done during my needle sessions! Ooooh, maybe it is possible to poke this baby out ;)

Friday – packing the birth bag

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Now I’m 38 weeks I’ve decided I really should pack my birth bag – we’ve decided to call it birth bag as I’m hoping to avoid going to hospital. I’ve been gathering bits for weeks but finally got around to packing it all and it’s like the best bag of goodies EVER. I’m genuinely looking forward to when the first surge hits just so I open it. I have a lush new Diptique candle packed, a mini bottle of champers (of course), a new super fluffy towel and dressing gown, new bed socks, jelly babies, galaxy bars, laminated affirmations, a head massager, my luxe silk PJs and a set of L’Occitane toiletries which I’ve saved for months. It’s going to be like Christmas has come early… unless I’m waaay overdue and then it will be like Christmas has come late… and I will probably be massively pissed off.

I’ve also packed the obvious essentials like loads of industrial-sized sanitary pads and a few packs of size 14 pants from Sainsburys, to accommodate the aforementioned nappy-like pads, which I will be more than happy to dispose of ASAP. And of course some men’s t-shirts in size XXL from Primark to wear when in labour. I just don’t like to focus on this darker side of my birthing bag.

Finally, I’ve also got to work on creating a playlist for birthing a baby on Spotify. So far I’ve got a bit of Alt-J, The XX, Hozier, George Ezra and Bastille. Unless it’s a very quick labour (unlikely) I’m going to need to add a few more… Would love some suggestions??

Birth Story Of The Week – Kharmel and Minnie

I have total OCD…I write lists of lists and had an excel spreadsheet of everything I thought I needed for the birth of baby G (I can’t really remember where this moniker came from) I also Google everything…Pregnancy and birthing has taught me that regardless of how many colour coordinated excel docs you make, how many google searches, books you read, classes you attend etc – you are never truly prepared for what happens next. And by next I mean labour.
Our pregnancy was planned… I had tried to time it so that I would get preggo at Burning man because I naively thought it was as easy as that.  Mother nature thwarted me and I spent the whole week on my period, fat and bloated constantly freaking out about how a tampon was going to look with my outfit du jour (basically no clothes – goggle it!) So  back to London and back to business. Anyway long story short, I realised I was pregnant one night four months later whilst eating half a Spanish omelette in bed at 3am with ketchup. (I was about two days pregnant and googled pregnancy symptoms that night!  )
I had a pretty ‘okay’ pregnancy if you can call it that. I had hypermesis (I googled this, but didn’t think I had it until I was rushed to A & E and placed on an Iv drip for two days) but other than that was pretty smooth sailing – no cravings, no stretch marks : ) and no piles!
I knew pretty much from the beginning that I had wanted a home birth. I hate hospitals. I don’t really know why as I had never had any kind of surgery or had to spend a night in hospital until my Hyperemis and the food wasn’t all that bad! I went to a home birth class run by my local midwives which was really informative and not so hippy dippy as I thought it was going to be. There were lots of ‘normal’ reasons for wanting a home birth from women who had chosen to do so because they hadn’t had a great experience in hospitals with their first births, wanting more control over their births etc. I  was thinking how wonderful it would be to have a baby and then shut the door, shut the blinds and crawl into bed with our baby. Just the three of us. No hospital noise. No hospital lights. It was here that I first heard about Hypnobirthing and made a note to google it some more!!!
A few weeks later we met with an absolutely wonderful woman called Karen Mander who ran a two hour session that my and my boyf went to. He fell asleep. I thought it would be a crazy ‘alternative’ woman who had probably never had children herself, getting you to listen to whale music. Instead, we had an honest open discussion about how labour actually happens and the physical aspect of what is happening at each stage and what you can do to have a birth that is more calm by taking control of your body. This was the best money spent during my whole pregnancy (apart from a preggo massage at Space NK)
So I get to my due date and fancy sushi… I Google to see if sushi can really be that bad for you this late in pregnancy. Jury was out but I didn’t care at this point and drove to get California crab rolls and a beer. No sign of baby. I spend the next two days googling ‘how do I know if I’m in labour.’ Retrospective word of advice – when you are, you know. If you have to google it chances are you ain’t!! I google image what a mucus plug looks like (gross) google whether raspberry leaf tea/ acupuncture/ reflexology work. Google how accurate due dates are. Google how many women go into labour on their due date. Goggle is now my enemy. I’m bored.
Cut to two days later and I am definitely having contractions. They start on Sunday and hurt. But they don’t hurt hurt so I lounge about and think now is probably a good time to put on my hypnobirthing CD (damn why hadn’t I done this 4 months ago!). The midwife comes and attempts a sweep but I’m not having any of it. I go to bed and manage to get some sleep and eat a lot of shit – Nik Naks, Minstrels and some weird new Lucozade. My Dad comes over and I try to pretend that I’m not having contractions whilst trying to log them on my contraction timer app. It’s shit.
The next morning I’m definitely in labour, I’ve definitely seen my mucus plug (still gross) I text my midwife and curl up in bed, occasionally moving on to my birthing ball and then back into bed. Boyf starts filling the pool up at around 4pm and I get in without a midwife as I’ve decided I’ve had enough. The pool is amaaaaaaaaaazing. The hot water makes me feel relaxed and seems to take the pressure off. Then the gas and air arrives (with two more midwives and a student midwife) I have my diptique burning and fleetwood Mac on what seems to be repeat but maybe not. Anyway the gas and air is a dream and everything for the next three hours becomes a magical blur. I just remember floating around and generally feeling very euphoric. Oh and trying to eat a digestive biscuit at some point only to spit it back into my boyfriend’s face. Nice. I ask a few times how much longer, but not because the pain is unbearable… at this point I just want to meet my baby and see what he or she looks like.
Then I get to 9cms dilated and things change. I want to push. I tell the midwife and I think I start to try to push. Then I hear them all talking but can’t really work out what they’re saying. I didn’t know this at the time, but baby’s heartbeat keeps dropping with every contraction. They say that they are going to take me to hospital just to make sure everything’s okay. I was still high on gas and air so don’t really remember much of this part other than not wanting to get dressed to get in an ambulance. And not having a proper hospital bag packed as I was adamant I wasn’t ever going to have to go to hospital.
We get to the hospital and they quickly work out that the cord is firmly wrapped around the baby’s neck. I was going to need an emergency c section. Now, I’ve not had any surgery not even a tooth out but at this point I’m still super high on gas and air and don’t really care what they’re doing to me. I remember the radio playing and everyone being really nice and talking to me… I sign some papers and kind of remember talking about this bit in the NCT class. I’m awake but definitely too high to have any kind of freak out which I MOST DEFINITELY would have had, had I not been on gas and air.
Then she was out. Very quickly. There was a moment of silence and my boyfriend was definitely worried but I knew that all was going to be okay. And then a teeny tiny cry. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl and I remember Adam saying it was a girl and placing her on my chest. I was super spaced out of it but remember looking at her and thinking she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and fuck me she had a lot of hair!!
I would never have opted for a c section in a million years and it definitely wasn’t the greatest experience I’ve ever had but the hospital were amazing and I think that my home birth (while it lasted) was the most beautiful and magical thing I could wish for. As I write this 7 weeks later, and reflect, I now know that I would have always had to have a c section due to the cord tie,  but I would do it all again in exactly the same way. My midwives were the most wonderful women I could have asked for. It was their quick decision and knowledge that something wasn’t quite right,, that prevented things from going horribly wrong. Yes I now have a bumpy scar, and surgery and hospitals still scare me, but I’m happy that I attempted to give birth at home and got to enjoy 5 hours of labour at home.
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Minnie Rose Gravett was born at 10.21pm on Monday 29th September and weighed 6.6lbs. She’s a dream. And I still Google everything, although I have no time for Excel docs anymore!

Don’t Buy Her Flowers!

When my second baby was 2 weeks old and my husband had gone back to work, a very lovely friend left me a huge lasagne, a big loaf of sour dough bread, and some home made brownies on my door step with a note. It read ‘Dear Clemmie you’re probably feeling exhausted and the thought of cooking dinner tonight fills you with dread. Here’s some yummy grub to keep you going, no need to call and thank speak soon xx.’

It was such a kind and thoughtful present I burst into tears. This friend understood exactly what a new mum really needs, not another teddy for the baby, a hand wash only cashmere baby cardigan or even another bunch of flowers. New mums need things for them, survival packs, something that says well done for pushing a human out of your vagina now here are some treats for you!

Steph recently started Don’t Buy Her Flowers, selling thoughtful gift packages for new mums with the awesome addition of COOK food vouchers so new parents can stock up their freezer with proper meals they don’t have to prepare.

Me in first week

She says ‘I started it mostly because I think receiving an additional thing to care for when you’ve had a baby is, frankly, a bit bonkers and yet 96% of new mums receive flowers. I think women deserve to feel a bit cared for after having a baby because those first months are tough. New mothers, whether they realise it or not (and unfortunately I think we’re too busy punishing ourselves or feeling guilty about something to realise it) give a lot. We give over our bodies, our minds, our relationships and for a while for most of us, we lose a bit of ourselves. I don’t want to whinge about it – it’s not to say my children aren’t worth it, or I would do it differently if I had my time again and all those things women jump to say if they feel they’re caught having a moan about having babies. But I think it’s tough. Maybe because we don’t all have families around us, maybe because there is so much information available we can read something that tells us we are making a complete shitting mess of it. Maybe because unlike generations before us, we have expectations of ourselves to be out there and earning and creating and doing something brilliant. All while looking hot and in control and with a baby attached to us in some sort of sling.

I certainly didn’t feel hot or in control in the first months after having a baby. Actually that’s not entirely true – I constantly had a sweat on when breastfeeding, but you know what I mean. In those early stages, it’s all about someone else and I often got to 5pm before realising I hadn’t yet cleaned my teeth. For most of us, for the first time in our lives we’re completely at the beck and call of another person, doing something we’ve never done before, while handling the crackers hormones and for many the physical repercussions of birth.

When I had my first baby, I received eight bunches of flowers. I worked in advertising and the agencies sent these lovely bouquets that at any other time I would have felt hugely grateful for, but I didn’t have the energy to do anything with them and only had two small vases, so they left me feeling a bit weepy. Which in turn made me feel more weepy – what kind of woman was I if the kind act of sending me flowers left me feeling distressed?

After that, when a friend had a baby I sent them a little package of nice things for them and if they lived near, I cooked them something and left it on their doorstep. These friends sent the loveliest messages about how wonderful it was that someone had thought of them. I realised that it wasn’t only me that a) got a lot of flowers and b) found the new mum bit hard. At this point, I returned to work part-time after both babies and found the juggle tough. The commute felt like wasted time, the job felt ‘different’ (or I did) and then there’s the guilt when I got the inevitable calls that one of the kids was poorly. My career to this point had been managing multiple agency and internal teams to deliver national campaigns, and I’d loved it. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s multi-tasking. And, if I’m honest, being a bit bossy. Once the seed had been planted that maybe this new mum gift thing could be a business, I couldn’t get it out of my head and everything I’d learnt before now felt like it was going to help me actually do this.

My love of all things ‘Sisterhood’ started because one of the things that helped me when I had my babies was support from other women. The ones that reassured me it was ok to feel a bit bonkers, and that breastfeeding can be a bit hard, and that it was all going to get easier.  My mum – a midwife and having had four babies herself – helped me when Buster was a few weeks old when I rang her crying, overcome with tiredness and feeling unsure I was getting anything right. She told me to just STOP. I didn’t have to do something every day in those first months. I didn’t have to meet up with people and trek around worrying that I was going to be late for a feed but not wanting to cut everyone else’s walk short. The baby didn’t need ‘stimulating’ at a few weeks old when he had my face to look at. Heck, some days I didn’t have to get dressed. It is such a short period of time in the grand scheme of things. On the days when everything is going to plan, get out there just try not to overdo it. When it’s not, pull the drawbridge up and do whatever you can to rest because the world will feel like a brighter place when you do. When you have a baby you have the best excuse in the world not to turn up to everything, it’s just unfortunate that most of us don’t realise that until later. None of it matters. Very little is more important than you being as rested as is possible for someone getting by on probably not a lot of sleep.

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The packages I’ve put together are essentially to try and encourage that idea – for a mum to stop and take a few minutes to herself or with her partner. We launched with three packages; The Care Package, The Essentials and The Date Night In. COOK food vouchers can be added to any package, which also make it a great gift if you want to spend a bit more or buy a group present. I don’t know any new parents that wouldn’t appreciate food they don’t have to prepare. Whether it’s for someone having their first baby or their sixth, life is different to before and everyone will need a bit of time to adjust.

I can’t tell you how this will work out as it’s only been a couple of weeks. It’s started brilliantly and the feedback, from the quality of the products and the packaging to recipients weeping when they open their gift (in a good way!) has been so lovely to receive. There are partners, friends and grandparents that feel a bit useless at times and our website enables them to buy a gift that offers mums some TLC. Flowers say ‘I’m thinking of you’. A gift package from Don’t Buy Her Flowers says ‘I’m thinking of you, if you’re finding it hard it’s OK and I hope this makes you feel a bit better’.

Check out Don’t Buy Her Flowers website, where you’ll also find the Sisterhood (and all that) blog. You can follow Steph on Twitter @StephieDoug and on Facebook.

If that hasn’t got you nodding along and remembering how you really felt after having a baby I don’t know what planet you’re on. We have one lucky reader the chance to win a Date Night In with Champagne for someone that needs it, which could be a friend or yourself if you’re in need! All you have to do is tell me what was the most ridiculous present you got after having your baby. It can be something totally impractical, totally hideous or just totally bizarre. Leave your answer in the comments box. The winner will be revealed next Friday. Good luck!